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Mazzuca: Does history repeat itself?

Writer/philosopher George Santayana once posited, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” The phrasing itself is catchy; but more importantly, it’s true. And if history is driven by human nature, which it is, then this saying ought to guide our public and private policy.

During World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, who were collectively known as “The Big Three,” met only twice; but their decisions changed the course of history. The first time they met was in Tehran in 1943 when Stalin expressed concern about Roosevelt’s health; they met again a year and a half later at Yalta in the Crimea.

The British goal at Yalta was to maintain their empire, the Soviets wanted additional lands and to solidify their position in lands already wrested from the Nazis, while the United States wanted Stalin to enter the Pacific war to discuss postwar settlement and gain a commitment from Stalin to participate in the United Nations after the war.

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to Roosevelt, Stalin had already decided to declare war on Japan because he wanted both additional territories in Asia and to reverse Russia’s humiliating defeat during the Russo-Japanese War 40 years earlier and to join the United Nations. 

While Roosevelt could not have known Stalin’s intentions towards Japan, many historians argue that a healthy Roosevelt should have at the very least surmised the Soviets would join the United Nations vis-à-vis the already-agreed-upon voting formula giving veto power to the Security Council’s permanent members, thus giving Stalin the influence he wanted over world affairs.  Nonetheless, more than anything else, Stalin’s No. 1 priority at Yalta was control over Poland to use as a buffer between Russia and it historic enemies, which included acquiring lands from eastern Poland in exchange for free elections; a promise he failed to honor.

Unaware of Stalin’s intentions, Roosevelt made a number of fateful decisions at Yalta, or as some historians assert, one-sided compromises.  Some believe Stalin’s poker face enabled him to pull the wool over Roosevelt’s eyes; other historians argue Roosevelt’s enfeebled condition (newsreels document how the president couldn’t even shake hands with other dignitaries without using a support for his right arm) was the real reason Stalin was able to extract concessions from the president.

Still, Roosevelt felt the conference was a success because the Big Three had ratified their agreements about the postwar Germany and Berlin. But hindsight is always 20-20, and looking back, we see clearly the most significant consequence of the decisions and concessions made at Yalta was that hundreds of millions Eastern Europeans would be brought under the yoke of communism behind an “Iron Curtain” for nearly half a century.

This isn’t a criticism of FDR; his place in history is assured, nonetheless, it has been argued one man’s deteriorating health resulted in the demographic catastrophe that enslaved millions after WWII. And with a presidential election looming, we would be wise as a nation to examine the political acumen and more importantly the physical and mental stamina of the two men running for the office.

The President of the United States is the leader of the free world. His decisions regarding, North Korea, Iran, Russia, ISIS, Iranian militias, Syria, al-Qaeda, NATO, International Trade, Tariffs, Energy Independence and of course, China — always China, will affect the world for years to come.  And that’s what’s truly at the center of this election and certainly a topic worthy of discussion lest we allow history to repeat itself.

Thought for the day: Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar recently urged former Vice President Joe Biden to pick a woman of color for his running mate.  C’mon, does anyone believe if Senator Klobuchar’s only daughter, Abigail, needed a heart transplant the senator’s priority would be finding a female heart surgeon of color?


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